I could not live without…

My team of dispensing opticians

Optometrist at Hassocks Eyecare Centre, which is part of the Hakim Group, Vicki Macken, shares how the pandemic made her realise the importance of her team of dispensing opticians

dispensing team

When I looked down at the job tray and saw a very sorry pair of broken rimless spectacles, I think my reaction was: “Oh my goodness, I have no idea how to fix them.” This was during the height of the pandemic in the first lockdown, and I had to repair these incredibly intricate glasses all by myself, with hardly any practice after years of these skills not being required. From the many things that the past year has taught me, one of the main lessons is that I could not live without my incredible team of dispensing opticians.

We really missed them; I think I lost count how many times I said: “I’m so glad you’re here today


The DO

At Hassocks Eyecare Centre, we believe the role of a dispensing optician should be a varied one. However, I see their main function as about guiding the patient to the right frame, the right lens and making sure their spectacles fit well.

When March 2020 arrived and we entered the first lockdown, it became clear we would not be able to sell any glasses. Therefore, we had to make the decision to furlough our team of five dispensing opticians. That left myself and my business partner, Paul Watts, to our own devices and dispensing on our own. As two optometrists, it wasn’t long before we were having to remember skills that we had not practised for a long time after spending decades in the testing room.

To be honest, those few months before June were a nightmare. As I’m sure many practice owners found, there were so many repairs that were required, along with outstanding orders that slowly arrived from labs. In terms of repairs, I knew in theory how to fix them, but I spent so many hours fiddling with nose pads and supra threads, as well as finding which screw size would fit. After 25 years of working in practice, I realised that the skills our dispensing opticians need on a daily basis fade without regular practise.

I remember sending several photos of broken spectacles on our team WhatsApp group, basically asking for help from our dispensing opticians who sent very helpful replies explaining to me how to solve the problems.

Paul or I would then post a very proud photo of the successful fix, and although we (mostly) managed the repair in the end, the fact it may have taken over four hours shows just how skilful the job of a dispensing optician is.

Knowing which screw head or nut to use, and then having the intricate ability to assemble the pair back to full health, are skills that I think I may have underestimated before the pandemic. I don’t think we would ever have claimed we could do what they do, but I absolutely found a new respect for my colleagues and their incredible practical attributes.

Virtual communication

Those WhatsApp groups also gave us a chance to stay connected during a time when we were physically apart; we encouraged those who were furloughed to send photos of them on their walks or whatever they were up to, to keep the team spirit up.

Our team is very close and they are so important to us, and that’s where I think we align well with the Hakim Group, who we officially joined in April 2021. Focusing on staying positive and finding ways to do that was really encouraged by the Hakim Group during its Stronger Together webinars. The webinars also gave us a chance to further connect with our team, as we would all share what we thought of the webinar content in our WhatsApp group as we watched them together.

Everyone is there to help each other, and when they’re gone it makes you realise what it takes for an optical practice to function at its best


Together again

Of course, it was an enormous relief to have our dispensing opticians back in practice; having the experienced hands around our younger dispensers means there is a fantastic blend within the team, with the knowledge they share between them and the different skills they bring to the table.

We really missed them; I think I lost count how many times I said: “I’m so glad you’re here today.”

They have adapted so well to the new protocols. At the end of every day, the dispensing optician will wipe down the chairs, the keyboards and the desks, and I never see any of them cutting corners. Despite the personal protective equipment and the social distancing, our team spirit is still just as strong, even if it means we have to shout at each other from separate rooms when chatting on our lunch break.

When I thought about what I could not live without, I think I could manage without some of our technology, but those few months before June 2020 confirmed to me that I just could not cope without the skills my team brings. Everyone is there to help each other, and when they’re gone it makes you realise what it takes for an optical practice to function at its best.